Succession struggles in West Asia worry the US and its allies


Mubarak, 81, seeks to dissolve parliament, in preparation for the appointment of his son Gamal, 45, as heir apparent, and bring forward the presidential election to confirm the arrangement. Mubarak is said to have taken this decision due to ill-health and the sudden death of his beloved 12-year old grandson.

Although he has steadfastly refused to appoint a successor since assuming the presidency following the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981, Mubarak has been grooming Gamal to succeed. However, the transfer of power may not be as smooth as the president anticipates.

Gamal, a wealthy businessman, is not a popular figure and could be challenged by intelligence chief Omar Suleiman who has long been mentioned as Mubarak’s successor. Sueliman is popular and could secure the backing of factions in the powerful military, which has dominated the Egyptian scene since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1952.

While Gamal Mubarak has experience only as senior figure in the ruling party, Suleiman has assumed high profile roles on the regional scene. He is trying to broker a reconciliation deal between the squabbling Palestinian Fatah and Hamas movements, formalise the Gaza ceasefire, and forge an agreement between Hamas and Israel on the exchange of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas affiliates three years ago.

Mubarak confided his plan to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah who, at 85, is himself having to rethink the succession in his country. The crown prince, the king’s half-brother Defence Minister Sultan, is 83 and ailing. Recently, King Abdullah named another half-brother, veteran Interior Minister Naif, 76, to the post of second deputy prime minister, but this does not guarantee that he will reach the throne.

Significantly, the king chose Prince Naif to follow Prince Sultan. They are two of the seven sons of Abdel Aziz ibn Saud, founder of the dynasty, and Hassa bint Ahmad al-Sudairi.

The six surviving Sudairis count as a powerful clique within the Saudi royal family. The other four are Abdel Rahman, Turki, Salman (governor of Riyadh) and Ahmad. Either Turki or Salman could be possible successors.

But the field is not limited to the six full Sudairi brothers. Before his demise in 1953 Abdel Aziz had fathered 43 sons, 37 of whom were still alive. They had many sons who have differences over who should succeed to the kingship and how the state should be run.

These succession struggles or unrest in either Egypt or Saudi Arabia could be disastrous for the US and its allies.  Mubarak and King Abdullah are the key figures in the US-sponsored ‘moderate’ Arab camp which includes Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon. Hariri, a political novice, is particularly dependent on the Saudi monarch for both finance and advice.

Palestinian problem

Abbas, 74, is this camp’s weakest member. He is deeply unpopular with his own people who see him as too closely tied to Israel to challenge its colonisation of the occupied Palestinian territories which prevents the the Palestinians from achieving self-determination in their homeland. The West has been grooming caretaker Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to succeed Abbas, who, the sources say, wants to retire and enjoy a quiet life.

But Fayyad, who has no popular base, is rejected by Fatah legislators who want the post and distrusted by many Palestinians. The Jordanian monarch, at only 47 years old, has just appointed his son Hussein, 15, crown prince, supplanting the king’s half-brother Hamza.

This move surprised many in the kingdom which is an island of relative stability in turbulent sea of West Asia. But Jordanians believe that if a Palestinian state does not emerge in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, Palestinians living in these Israeli-occupied areas could be driven into Jordan, swamping the kingdom which already has a large Palestinian population.

Hariri, 39, son of Lebanon’s slain former premier Rafiq Hariri, is currently trying to form a government following the success of his bloc in the June 7 parliamentary election.  Hariri, a businessman, did not expect to take over from his father who was only 61 at the time of his death. Hariri’s seat at the cabinet table is precarious because of the vagaries of Lebanon’s unstable sectarian political system.

In the absence of the strong Saudi and Egyptian father figures, the other three ‘moderate’ Arab leaders could be seriously compromised unless the Obama administration delivers a viable Palestinian state and peace treaties ending the 61 year-old Arab-Israeli conflict.

Unfortunately, to achieve this regional miracle, US President Barack Obama will have to persuade hard-line Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his cabinet to relinquish the West Bank and East Jerusalem, end Israel’s grip on Gaza, and yield the occupied Golan Heights to Syria.

But Natanyahu flatly refuses to consider renouncing his party’s ‘Greater Israel’ ideology and risking his right-wing coalition by entering a peace process with such objectives.

Consequently, West Asia is likely to remain turbulent for the foreseeable future.

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